5 myths about team leads. How to become a team lead and avoid mistakes

6 min

Hello, Habr! One of the “eternal” disputes in IT is about how to develop a developer: to pump hard skills or managerial skills? If you are asking yourself this question, let’s remember 5 famous myths about the work of a team lead – and of course, compare them with reality.

My name is Alexander, for more than a year I have been running our internal training project – “Team Lead Academy”. Our mentors help Middle-developers who are determined to acquire management skills. During the year, 80 specialists were trained.

What practice shows:

  • If a developer comes to study, he often quite clearly represents the tasks of the team lead, has specific goals in front of him.
  • At the same time, it also happens that the expectations of a novice team lead do not coincide with practice.

Why is this happening? What does a team lead really do? I propose to recall the most common misconceptions and at the same time analyze the specific tasks that the team leader will have to solve.

Myth number 1. Team lead is the coolest techie on the team

It is not uncommon to hear the opinion that a team lead is a lead developer who uses his leadership skills to manage the team, but is not limited to management. In practice, the role of team lead is usually gradual, and the specialist devotes more time to management than development.

Of course, every company has its own idea of ​​who a team lead is and what his responsibilities are. At the same time, the role of a manager in IT is critically important, as in other areas.

First of all, a team lead is needed in large-scale projects and distributed teams, when a large IT system – for example, a banking system – is jointly created by in-house developers and several external contractors.

image altExample: it happens that the project team involves developers of different directions, with different experience – Backend, Frontend and Mobile, QA specialists, SDET and DevOps. Even if you think that developers need to strive for self-organization, this is usually an unattainable ideal. In life, a team often needs a classic leader.

The team lead looks at the project comprehensively and helps the specialists to act as if they are a single whole. From the very beginning, he builds a comfortable and friendly atmosphere in the team. For each participant, he selects a suitable task and monitors the stages of its implementation. Also, the team lead can conduct a high-quality code review, suggest improvements in the presence of problems and risks.

At the same time, despite the importance of the role of the team leader, there is also a directly opposite myth, which we will discuss below.

Myth number 2. Team lead does not develop as a techie and burns out

The ratio of technical to management tasks can be different – for example, 70/30, 80/20, or even 50/50.

As the project progresses, management tasks can take up more and more time. This means that the team lead does sometimes develop their technical skills more slowly than other developers on the team.

However, such situations always have a solution – depending on the further goals of the specialist, you can pump technical or managerial skills.

However, this factor is important to consider, therefore, when choosing a team lead, they are based not only on hardskills. Probably, many have heard or even seen how a smart developer is chosen as a team leader, and then he either “fades out”, becomes demotivated, or because of his lack of skills, the situation on the project becomes tense.

Our practice shows that both training a team lead and immersion in tasks take a lot of time. Let’s take an old example from our practice, which prompted us to create an internal “Team Lead Academy”.

Example: an experienced developer was offered to lead a small team, and for a while he coped well, but the difficulties grew every day. The problem was simple: the specialist did not want to offend anyone or appear too harsh, he could not demand something from the team, even when it was necessary. Such a mistake can lead to demotivation of the specialist himself, because he will think that he has not coped with the new position. Fortunately, in that situation, everything ended well: the developer honestly and on time spoke with the manager, his task was transferred to another manager, and he himself returned to development and continued to develop his hard skills.

Myth number 3. Team lead should code himself and best of all

This myth – like the previous one, about the lack of development in the team lead – is based on an initially somewhat incorrect attitude. The fact is that a team lead is no longer only and not so much a developer as a manager. If we talk about the qualities and requirements for a team lead, first of all, this is the desire to develop, the desire to be a leader. A team lead is someone who comes up with ideas, proposes and thinks through solutions and distributes tasks.

The team lead is also responsible for technical debt and code reviews, planning and technical processes, and ensuring that developers complete tasks on time. It is important for him to be able to delegate, not to take on all the work. To be able to correctly distribute tasks between team members depending on their professionalism, taking into account their preferences and aspirations.

Example: in one of our projects, we saw how the team lead became a “bottleneck” in the process, as he closed the execution of complex tasks on himself. The solution was to appoint a tech lead and delegate some of the responsibility to him, which allowed each specialist to grow professionally faster.

Myth number 4. The team lead is solely responsible for the entire project

As we discussed above, being in charge of a project doesn’t mean writing code alone. The team lead is the key link in the development team. He directs the project in a productive direction. His attitude affects the entire project and for each participant. Thus, if a team leader is motivated, his motivation extends to the entire team.

Let’s consider what tasks team leaders solve in distributed teams, using the example of one of our projects – the completion of a large banking IT system.

Example: at the start, 11 of our Backend-developers, living in different cities, took part in this project, and each of them was in a separate product team under the control of the client.

Among the features of the project were poorly developed communications in the client’s team, complex control processes (in a separate chat) and environment settings.

In order to improve team interaction and speed up development, we have included a team lead from our side. During the first six months of cooperation, the team led by the team lead succeeded in the following:

  • conducted 5 teambuildings of distributed teams and ensured a favorable climate in the team;
  • the team increased the speed of completing tasks by 10% due to established communications;
  • reduced the process of setting up the environment from 3 days to 4 hours.

In this example, we saw how significantly the work of the team lead can affect the processes in the team. For several years of cooperation, our team on the project has expanded to more than 60 specialists: backend, frontend and mobile developers, analysts, QA.

Myth number 5. Developers join team leads to increase their salaries

This statement completes the list because it is the most obvious myth of all. If you are managing a team, both large and small, then the success of a project always depends on many factors.

In turn, this means that the level of income of a team lead – as well as of a developer – will directly depend on individual experience and knowledge.

Team Lead Academy: Our Experience

Both grocery and outsourcing IT companies use different opportunities to find managers. Some appoint team leaders from among the most experienced developers in the team, others hire specialists “from outside,” and still others build internal learning processes.

For custom development, the third path is most often optimal. In this case, specialists can train the necessary skills gradually, on average, over a period of 3 to 12 months.

For example, we have “Team Lead Academy” – an internal project for the transfer of experience. Since 2019, we have been training those developers who are interested in team management. During the year, 80 specialists were trained, half of them – more than 40 people – have already immersed themselves in a new role and joined project teams.

According to our observations, the most effective step-by-step immersion of future team leaders in work: theory, practice, and also the subsequent support of the mentor. Taken together, this helps to reduce the risk of “burnout” of a specialist and ensure his productivity.

In June 2020, we already covered in Zoom how our learning processes work. After that, we supplemented the program based on feedback. Developers from other companies can now join the classes.

What Team Lead Academy

Our workshop is 21 online consultations (more than 50 hours) and 5 months of immersion in the profession. Online consultations take place once a week.

November 26, 2020 – the nearest workshop, and open webinar (register here)

For whom:

  • For those who want to become a team lead.
  • For those who already lead development teams.
  • For Middle / Senior developers who want to improve their management skills.

In the classroom, we share the key aspects of managing a development team:

  • personal managerial skills and building a productive team;
  • the boundaries of the team lead’s responsibility;
  • basics and techniques of time management;
  • management tools and communication basics;
  • organization, implementation and improvement of production processes;
  • basics of project management.

I invite register for a workshop or open launch webinar!


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